When Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere first heard about the killing of George Floyd, he says he experienced a wide range of emotions, from shock, horror and sadness to anger and disgust. One emotion he did not necessarily feel was surprise.
“As a Black man in America, I think the ‘here we go again’ I felt was because it’s commonplace for things like this to occur,” he said. “Maybe not to the extent where someone dies or makes it into the news, but I can remember instances of my own where I felt I was treated unfairly or in a demeaning way.”
Mayor LaRosiliere moved to Plano in 1994. In 2013 he became the city’s first African American mayor.
According to him, it’s no accident that there have not been any high-profile cases of violent police misconduct in Plano. He sees it as the product of years of hard work and very intentional relationship building. The result is a mutual trust between police and the community that’s not always seen elsewhere. He believes this was a major contributing factor to keeping local protests peaceful over the past month.
Of course that’s not to say that there still isn’t work that needs to be done. He says the national reckoning on the role of police provides an opportunity to revisit existing procedures and ensure that our city remains at the forefront of modern policing. However, at this point he sees no reason to take any responsibilities away from the department as some people have suggested.
One of the things to come out of the George Floyd killing has been the perception of the phrase “Black lives matter.” Multiple opinion polls show a sharp increase in support of the movement from white Americans over the past month. Mayor LaRosiliere says he finds that very interesting, especially considering that it’s still common to hear people counter with the phrase “all lives matters.” To him that devalues the meaning of “Black lives matter” because empirical evidence shows that Black lives are treated differently, and in many cases as if they don’t matter.
“It’s great to see that people are now understanding it’s not to say that we matter more than anyone else. It’s to say that we’ve been treated worse than most so it’s important to verbalize it, and that hopefully that turns to action.”
Mayor LaRosiliere says that while he may not see rampant racism in his daily life, it’s undeniable that color still matters to many. He may be recognizable close to home, but when he’s away from Plano, he’s just another Black man.
“Every single one of us has preconceived ideas,” he said. “It’s just a question of us being comfortable enough to acknowledge that and learn from it.”
To that end, he sees the current situation as an opportunity for white Americans to better comprehend issues like police brutality that Black Americans have known about all along.
There are two specific things that he hopes will come out of the current situation:
The first is an absolute recognition and affirmation that racism exists. He hopes that more people will be comfortable enough to say that and realize that structures of racism are pervasive in the lives of Black Americans.
His second hope is that more people will accept that silence or non-action is akin to consent. He sees this moment as an opportunity for everyone to come to the realization that racism exists everywhere. It’s institutionalized, subtle in some cases and very obvious in others. Everyone should figure out what they can do in their own lives to make a difference.
“I say this with all sincerity. Don’t feel you have to go save the world. You have to figure out what in your life you are comfortable with to help the cause, whether it’s criminal justice, housing, education, mentorship. Whatever it is, we all do our small part,” he said. “You don’t have to go lift the heavy loads; you just have to be conscious about it every day.”
Mentoring students has been a priority during his mayoral tenure. Two years ago, the city partnered with Paul Quinn College, a private historically Black college located in Dallas, to help students access education, housing and jobs. The result: There are now 50 interns gaining experience with local companies. The mayor has also sponsored his own summer internship program which helps high schoolers experience local companies and organizations.
“These are examples of when businesses, education and government come together on behalf of our future,” he said.
Both programs have had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Zoom classes and meetings becoming the norm. It’s a world that he has had to adapt to as well. He admits that governing through a global pandemic and then civil unrest is challenging. The events happen in real time, with no manual on how to react to each new situation. It requires flexibility and a willingness to make real-time decisions.
Mayor LaRosiliere says the best he can do is to rely on the three pillars of integrity, intent and intelligence. That means taking action because it’s the right thing to do, it helps as many as possible and is based on solid information.
“It doesn’t mean that you will make the same decisions as someone else and it doesn’t mean you are right,” he said. “It means you have gone through the process to come to the best place.”